The New Mexico Supreme Court recently upheld public access to formal citizen complaints filed against police officers.

In late June, the Court denied a request for review of a lower court ruling.  That decision left in place a 2010 appellate court decision which held that formal citizen complaints against police officers were public records and could be released under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act (“IPRA”).  Cox v. New Mexico Dept. of Public Safety, 148 N.M. 934, 242 P.3d 501 (N.M. App. 2010). The New Mexico Department of Public Safety sought to withhold the records, claiming that the citizen complaints fell under an IPRA exemption for “matters of opinion in personnel files” because the records relate to an officer’s job performance.  However, the New Mexico Court of Appeals found the exemption inapplicable, finding that citizen complaints necessarily arise from an officer’s role as a public servant, not the employment relationship with a public agency.  The appellate court noted that internal investigation reports and employer opinions generated as a result of citizen complaints remain exempt under as “matters of opinion in personnel files.”  However, the complaints themselves cannot be withheld.  242 P.3d at 507-08.  The court commented that though the Department of Public Safety “is the keeper of the information contained in the citizen complaints, the information continues to belong to the citizen who made the complaint.”  Id. at 507. Even if the allegations or complaints are untrue, it is not a basis for withholding information from the public.  Id.

Continue Reading New Mexico Supreme Court Allows Public Access to Citizen Complaints Filed Against Police Officers

In February, thousands of protestors, including many teachers, attended rallies in Wisconsin’s capitol to protest Governor Scott Walker’s proposed limits on collective bargaining for public workers.  As a result, schools were closed for a day or more in many districts.  Now conservative groups have filed public records requests asking school districts across the state to release the names of teachers who “called in sick” during the protests.

Many districts have complied, but the Madison School District (“District”), which had four days of closures in February, has denied several public records requests.  As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, the District is concerned that the release of the teachers’ names could “risk the safety of teachers and students, and disrupt morale and the learning environment in schools.”  The requesting groups deny that the information will be used to harm or harass teachers.  However, the District’s counsel believes otherwise, citing “a number of threats” made against board members, administrators and district employees as a result of teachers’ participation in the protests.

Continue Reading Caught Playing Hooky? Using Public Records Requests to Identify Wisconsin Teachers That “Called in Sick” During February Protests